Congratulations, Class of 2019!

June 14 is convocation day and the Faculty of Fine Arts is very excited to welcome 224 new graduates to our alumni family! Here is a quick glimpse into our diverse group of graduates:

Together with the new class of grads, you are part of an expansive network of over 8250 alumni. Given that you’re graduating on the cusp of Fine Arts celebrating our 50th anniversary as a faculty, there are many reasons to stay connected.
We are always interested in hearing about alumni accomplishments—please do keep in touch as your career develops, and let us know if you have any events or honours to celebrate.

We had another creatively inspiring year in Fine Arts. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Alumni success

Nathan Medd (photo: Andrew Alexander)

A cultural non-profit leader whose work is devoted to developing the performing arts in Canada, Nathan Medd (BFA ’01) is currently Managing Director of Performing Arts for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the nation’s largest arts training institution and incubator of new works. This year, he was honoured with the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award. Read more

Celebrated novelist and Writing grad Esi Edugyan (BFA ’99) soared to new literary heights this year by becoming only the second author in Canadian history to win two Giller Prizes — first for 2011’s Half Blood Blues and now for 2018’s Washington Black, which is also currently in development as a limited run TV series. Read more

Student success

Laura Gildner in her studio

Graduating Visual Arts student Laura Gildner was shortlisted for the Lind Photography Prize, mounted a solo photography exhibit at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery and staged work at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. She also won the Victoria Medal for the highest undergraduate GPA in the faculty. Read more

Members of the School of Music’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble were thrilled to have the opportunity to sing the music of iconic rock band Queen when the Victoria Symphony presented their Best of Queen concert this spring. Read more

Faculty success

Kirk McNally (School of Music) oversaw the installation of the new CREATE Lab and recording studio for music technology students, dedicated to the art and science of listening. Read more

Carey Newman (Visual Arts) made history twice this year by seeing his Residential School memorial sculpture The Witness Blanket entered into the permanent collection of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and in seeing the piece designated as a living entity that honours the stories of the survivors. Read more

Bill Gaston (Writing) won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his story collection, A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage — one final honour before he retires at the end of this academic year. Read more

Cast of The Drowsy Chaperone

Jacques Lemay (Theatre) led the student team behind The Drowsy Chaperone to create a smash hit show that resulted in a sold-out, held-over run — and one of the most popular Phoenix shows in recent memory! Read more

Carolyn Butler-Palmer (Art History & Visual Studies) consulted on the new $10 bill featuring Canadian civil rights leader Viola Davis, which means you can see the influence of our faculty whenever you get one of the new bills. Read more

Donor impact

Our generous donors gave over $1.8 million in 2018/19, with 45% of that coming from Fine Arts alumni. Overall, we distributed $709,621 to students last year via donor-funded scholarships and bursaries.

Theatre student Emma Leck became the inaugural recipient of the Spirit of the Phoenix Award, named for the late Phoenix student Frances Theron.

With the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Fine Arts coming up in 2019/20, we would love to hear your thoughts on how we can continue to engage with our alumni in significant ways. Convocation is a day for making meaningful memories—we hope that the culmination of your student years marks the start of our new relationship as alumni and colleagues.

Two Indigenous authors join Writing department faculty

It’s definitely a time of change in UVic’s celebrated Department of Writing, due in large part to this year’s retirement of both award-winning novelist Bill Gaston and acclaimed playwright Joan MacLeod. But with change comes opportunity, as seen by the hiring of not one but two noted writers as incoming faculty members: new associate professor Gregory Scofield and new assistant professor Danielle Geller.

Scofield is a Red River Metis of Cree, Scottish and European descent whose ancestry can be traced to the fur trade and to Metis community of Kinosota, Manitoba. Geller is is a member of the Navajo Nation: born to the Tsi’naajinii, born for the bilagaana.

“Gregory and Danielle are transformational hires who will help the department build on nearly 50 years of literary excellence and lead the university into a future of new and diverse creative possibilities,” says department chair David Leach. “Both will expand the national reputation of our creative writing program and establish the University of Victoria as an international centre of excellence for Indigenous writing and writers.”

Meet Gregory Scofield

Gregory Scofield

One of the most important poets and memoirists writing today, Scofield bridges several generations of Indigenous authors, with an extensive publishing history across multiple genres and years of mentoring and editing young writers—not to mention two new books coming out shortly: a re-release of his first memoir, Thunder Through My Veins (Doubeday Canada/Anchor Books) coming fall 2019, and his second memoir, Sitting with Charlotte: Stitching my History Bead by Bead (Doubleday Canada) due to be published in 2021.

“âcimowina. Stories. The power of stories. The spirit of stories. The bones of stories that need to be sung and invited to dance. I am so very excited to bring my stories and energy to the Writing department at the University of Victoria, to work with the students and the university community to Indigenize the creative writing curriculum,” says Scofield. “I am deeply honoured to be welcomed in the territories of the Lkwungen peoples, and to listen to their stories while sharing my own. âcimowina. Stories. There will be such a good feast.”

An award-winning poet with eight volumes published, Scofield has been an associate professor in the Department of English at Laurentian University for the past five years, and has taught creative writing and First Nations and Metis literature at Brandon University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the Alberta University of the Arts. He has also served as writer-in residence at the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg, and Newfoundland’s Memorial University. He is the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and the Writers’ Trust of Canada Latner Poetry Prize (2016); he is also a skilled bead-worker and creates in the medium of traditional Metis arts. He continues to assemble a collection of mid to late 19th century Cree-Metis artifacts, which are used as learning and teaching pieces.

“Gregory brings academic leadership, versatility as a literary artist and innovative ways of learning and teaching to our department,” says Leach. “He will lead writing workshops and teach courses in Indigenous storytelling based on Cree traditions, and Indigenous women’s resistance writing through the practice of Métis beadwork.”

Introducing Danielle Geller

Danielle Geller

Danielle Geller is a writer of memoir and personal essays; her debut memoir, Dog Flowers, is forthcoming from One World/Random House in 2020. She received her MFA in creative writing (nonfiction) at the University of Arizona, and is a recipient of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Awards. Her work has appeared in The New YorkerBrevity, and Arizona Highways Magazine and has been anthologized in This Is the Place (Seal Press, 2017).

“I am delighted to be joining the talented community of writers, storytellers, and artists in UVic’s Writing Department,” says Geller. “I hope to enhance Indigenous perspectives and voices in the curriculum and pedagogy . . . [and] I am looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm and commitment to the craft of writing and art-making with the students.”

Geller writes and teaches across multiple genres with interests and expertise in contemporary forms such as slipstream fiction, Indigenous futurism and video games. Along with her MFA, she has an MS in Library and Information Science and experience as an archivist, which will deepen our students’ research skills and the Writing department’s connection to the many resources of UVic’s library.

“We can’t wait for Danielle to meet our students—and vice versa,” says Leach. “When Random House releases her debut memoir about rediscovering the diaspora of her Navajo family, the rest of the world will also discover one of the most exciting new voices in literary prose.”

Both positions will begin in July 2019.

A commitment to reconciliation

“UVic recognizes that colonization and associated attitudes, policies and institutions have significantly changed Indigenous peoples’ relationship with this land. And for many years those same things served to exclude Indigenous students from higher education. We’re committed to redressing those historical and continued barriers,” says university president Jamie Cassels.

“As part of our commitment to reconciliation we’re building better and meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities, developing new programs, and working to bring our university into better harmony with Indigenous cultures, beliefs and ways of being. Indigenous people and communities are an important part of building our university for the future.”

We acknowledge with respect the Lkwungen-speaking peoples on whose traditional territory the University of Victoria stands, and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

 

Syrian quartet escapes ravages of war for fellowship at UVic

The dramatic story of a Syrian guitar quartet escaping the ongoing destruction of the Syrian civil war for a fellowship at the University of Victoria offers a remarkable message about the power of music, hope and determination. Alexander Dunn, an internationally renowned guitarist and instructor with UVic’s School of Music for nearly three decades, played a vital role in bringing the Orontes Guitar Quartet to the university as recipients of a prestigious Artist Protection Fund Fellowship grant.

(l-r) Orwa Al Sharaa, Gaby Al Botros, Nazir Salameh & Mohammed Mir Mahmoud in front of UVic’s Fine Arts Building, November 2018. (UVic Photo Services)

To secure the quartet’s arrival in Canada, Dunn worked closely for the past 18 months with two US-based organizations—the Artist Protection Fund (APF), an innovative initiative of the Institute of International Education, and the non-profit organization Remember the River.

The quartet told the Globe and Mail that their peaceful lives in Syria had been disrupted by the civil war, and violence and terror became commonplace. But when the ensemble started to play together, “we forgot everything because we just focused on what we are doing,” as recounted to The Globe’s arts reporter Marsha Lederman in a December 8 article in the national edition of the newspaper.

First collective to be named Artist Protection Fund Fellows

The classical guitar ensembleGaby Al Botros, Orwa Al Sharaa, Nazir Salameh and Mohammed Mir Mahmoud—faced violence in Damascus where they and their families were at risk from extremist groups and often targeted as musicians.

They are among the youngest artists—and the first collective—to be named fellows of the APF and were welcomed as Visiting Artists to UVic’s School of Music in early November.

Dunn’s colleague and friend, the highly esteemed classical guitarist and US composer Susan McDonald who teaches in conflict hot spots, also played a crucial role in bringing the four musicians to North America. The quartet was unable to travel to the States due to the ongoing travel ban.

Unique guitar culture and respected music program

The Orontes with Dr Alexander Dunn (centre) at UVic’s Phillip T Young Recital Hall (UVic Photo Services)

Dunn has built a unique guitar culture here which garners global respect and led to UVic being identified as an ideal haven for the quartet. During the ensemble’s time at UVic, Dunn will serve as their mentor, organize musical activities and provide coaching.

“The Orontes Quartet’s visit will enrich local musical activity and have positive repercussions in the greater community and across Canada for their compelling story of music and political affairs in the Middle East,” adds Dunn.

His local non-profit the Victoria Guitar Society will also provide daily practical support to the quartet.

Formed in 2015 at the University of Notre Dame Louaize in Beirut, the quartet has defied all odds to create careers as concert guitarists. While in Syria, they appeared with the Syrian Philharmonic, on Syrian MTV and Sky Arabia. They also arranged multiple concerts, some of which had to be cancelled at the last minute due to violent incursions. They have also worked as teaching assistants in Lebanon and taught a guitar program for Syrian refugees.

Upcoming performances in new year

The Orontes in performance (UVic Photo Services)

While at UVic, the Orontes Quartet will coach UVic students, produce a digital recording using UVic School of Music facilities, give talks on their experiences and musical activity, as well as perform publicly including at local churches and mosques. They also hope to mount a limited tour of Canada in 2019, with potential dates in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto.

Funded in partnership with global initiatives

Remember the River supports artists in war zones and the APF fills a critical unmet need by providing fellowship grants to threatened artists and placing them at welcoming institutions in safe countries where they can continue their work and plan for their futures.

UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and School of Music have partnered with the APF to support the Orontes Guitar Quartet through September 2019.

Get a taste of what makes the Orontes Guitar Quartet special as they play Boccherini’s “Fandango” in this video:

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He felt the bomb before he heard it. . Nazir Salameh’s right arm, the one he played guitar with, had been hit. Salameh ran to the nearest car, which happened to be a taxi. “To the hospital, to the hospital! Hurry up!” he told the driver, who set off through the streets of Damascus toward help. . The pain was excruciating; Salameh had to hold his right arm up with his left hand. When the shelling began, he had been waiting for two of his bandmates on their way to a rehearsal for their quartet; he had to leave his guitar behind. . Salameh says he had one thought on his way to the hospital: “If I will not play [guitar] again, I prefer to die.” . Telling the story three years later during an interview from the safety of the University of Victoria, the 26-year-old Syrian rolls up his shirt sleeve. “There was a mortar shell that entered from here,” he points to the scar on the top of his arm near his bicep, “and outside from here,” he says, lifting his arm to show another scar on its underside. . Despite the severity of his injury, Salameh was able to play guitar again. This skill eventually brought him here, to the School of Music building on UVic’s forested campus, along with the three other members of the Orontes Guitar Quartet. Gaby Al-Botros, Mohammed Mir Mahmoud, Orwa Al-Shara’a – all 25 – and Salameh, 26, arrived two weeks earlier. . The men are spending the year in the B.C. capital on fellowships organized by the Artist Protection Fund (APF). Based in New York and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the APF supports threatened artists around the world by providing fellowship grants and designing residency programs at academic or cultural institutions in safe countries, following a rigorous application process. . “Finally, and after everything we’ve been through, the dream has come true!” Orontes posted on their Facebook page from Victoria on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day. “Many thanks to APF … for doing the impossible.” — Follow the link in our bio for more from Marsha Lederman Photos by Rafal Gerszak, The Globe and Mail, @rafalgerszak

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Professor challenges WHO “video game addiction”

When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on June 18 that they were declaring “video game addiction” a mental health condition in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, Department of Writing chair David Leach felt compelled to respond.

Writing professor David Leach

“The announcement didn’t necessarily surprise me because there is a feeling in the public consciousness that video games are addictive and that kids spend too much time on them,” Leach told the Vancouver Sun in this June 21 interview. “My problem is when you label it addiction it conjures up visions of heroin and your 12-year-old kid living on the street and not talking to you anymore. It’s like talking about being addicted to movies when what you’re really talking about is being addicted to pornography.”

A journalist who is also an expert in gaming culture, Leach had just returned from Toronto where he’d organized two symposia on the social power of video games the week before the WHO news broke. He recently launched UVic’s fledgling Digital Storytelling & Social Simulation Lab to further these interests, he has also done a double-blind study about the use of gamification for education when he was director of UVic’s Technology & Society program.

The WHO felt labeling “gaming disorder” as its own unique addiction would allow governments, health care workers and families to be more aware of the risks and better prepared to identify and deal with them. But even though they admitted gaming disorder is rare — estimating three percent of all gamers (at most) are affected — Leach challenges this idea.

“Three per cent is a wild exaggeration,” he told the Sun, noting all the people in the world — including grown men and women — and all the platforms on which they play games. “That would be millions of people. It speaks to the lack of understanding of how predominant interactive games and media is. If you think of how many people play video games, that number must be much lower, something like 0.001 percent.”

According to the WHO, gaming disorder shares many symptoms with substance and gambling problems — which, says Leach, “feeds into media and parental concerns that already exist . . . it shouldn’t be disparaged as a gateway drug to addiction.”

Leach also spoke to CBC Radio’s On The Island on June 20, and was featured in this CHEK TV weekend news spotlight on June 25.

Leach recently taught the elective WRIT 324: Writing Interactive Narrative, which looked at the history of interactive media from which-way-books, to ZORK and VR Rollercoasters. It was also under his time as Technology & Society director that the popular History of Video Games & Interactive Media course was introduced. He was also the organizer of the Games Without Frontiers research forums, held during UVic’s Ideafest in 2013 and 2016, which examined the social power of video games.

“Video games have become both the mythology and a form of literacy for, I’d say, the last two generations,” Leach told the Times Colonist in this 2013 interview. “They experience the world through games; games are kind of their narrative expression.”

Leach still believes the variety and potential of video games and their technology need to be taken seriously, examined critically and understood in depth.

From Damascus to deadlines: Deborah Campbell joins Writing faculty

From embattled cities in Syria to intractable encounters in Israel, the writing of Deborah Campbell fuses journalism and travel writing with the kind of personal observations that can only come with being immersed in some of the most pressing international issues of our time.

New Writing prof Deborah Campbell

Now, Canadian author and literary journalist Deborah Campbell will become the latest addition to UVic’s celebrated Department of Writing. Starting July 1, 2018, Campbell will be the new assistant professor of creative nonfiction; she will also become Director of the Professional Writing program in January 2019.

“Deborah Campbell instantly makes UVic’s Department of Writing the destination in Canada for aspiring nonfiction writers who want to learn how to fuse a distinct personal voice with a depth of research and a keen social conscience—just as Deborah has done for years,” says Writing chair David Leach.

“Her on-the-ground experience as a writer and reporter for major international publications has prepared her to inspire a new generation of young journalists to investigate local and global issues amid a rapidly evolving publishing industry,” he continues. “And her immense talents as a prose stylist make her a natural fit for a department long known for mentoring several generations of Canada’s top creative writers.”

Campbell’s most recent book, A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War (Knopf Canada 2016, Picador USA 2017), won both the Writers’ Trust Hilary Weston Prize and the Hubert Evans BC Book Prize. Screen rights have been optioned by writer/director Terry George (In the Name of the Father, Hotel Rwanda). Her work has also been collected in seven separate anthologies.

“I hope to contribute my experience writing books and magazine articles from around the world, along with my knowledge of today’s fast-changing publishing climate,” says Campbell. “It’s my goal to equip the next generation with the skills and confidence to tell stories that matter.”

A world of experience

Deborah Campbell has written for Harper’s, The Guardian, The Walrus, The Economist and many other publications. Winner of three National Magazine Awards, in 2017 she also received the Freedom to Read Award, presented annually by the Writers’ Union of Canada in support of freedom of expression.

“There is so much to admire in the work of Deborah Campbell,” Writers’ Union Chair George Fetherling said at the time of her award. “Whether she is writing about war artists, international care-givers, the bafflingly complex politics of nuclear arms, or the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East, she does not shy from controversy, and is devoted to letting all voices find a place on her page.”

Campbell holds both a BFA and MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, and did undergraduate studies at institutions ranging from University of Paris-La Sorbonne and Tel Aviv University in Israel to SFU. Her teaching experience includes positions with the Creative Writing Program and the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC, as well as Vancouver’s Langara College. Interestingly, beyond being fluent in French, she also has a basic working understanding of Hebrew, Farsi, Arabic and Spanish.

“Deborah’s publications in such prominent magazines as Adbusters, Harper’s and Foreign Affairs, as well as her two powerful books about the complexities and dangers of life in the Middle East, helped to set her apart from an incredibly deep and strong field of applicants for this position,” says Leach. “She comes to the department with extensive experience as an instructor of nonfiction and journalism, and rave reviews from her past students and teaching peers.”

The latest chapter

For her part, Campbell is excited to be the latest chapter in the ever-evolving legacy of UVic’s Writing department. “I first heard about the department in the best possible way: from writers who got their start at UVic and are now writing books and winning awards,” says Campbell. “I’m delighted to be joining such talented faculty and students.”

Her work will compliment the current creative nonfiction and journalism classes taught by the likes of David Leach, Lee Henderson and the annual visiting Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction, as well as sessional instructors like Frances Backhouse, Christin Geall, Annabel Howard, Kirstie Hudson, and John Threlfall.

“While it was founded by poet Robin Skelton, almost since its inception the Department of Writing has included courses and programs focused on nonfiction writing and publishing,” notes Leach, “evolving from book publishing and newspaper reporting, through memoir, literary journalism and new digital forms of nonfiction.”

Tim Lilburn becomes first Canadian to receive international award

Distinguished poet and respected Department of Writing professor Tim Lilburn has become the first Canadian to receive the European Medal of Poetry and Art.

Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal and visiting poet Zhao Si

Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented with the 2017 prize by visiting Beijing poet and editor Dr. Zhao Si Fang, vice-president of the award committee. Following the tradition of presenting the medal in the country where the writer resides, Zhao Si traveled to Victoria to present the award at a small on-campus reception on October 10.

“The members of the council wish to emphasize the importance of your poetry for contemporary Canadian culture and the world,” noted Zhao Si in her presentation. “You belong to a group that includes some of the greatest poets of our time.”

A prominent Chinese poet, Fang has been translating Lilburn’s work since 2008, including his acclaimed 2012 collection, Assiniboia. She is also the editor of the Chinese magazine Contemporary International Poetry in Translation; their special 2016 Canadian issue included Lilburn’s work, as well as that of retired Writing professors Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.

“To be part of a group that includes [former winners] like the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, who would complain?” Lilburn told the Times Colonist in this September 29 interview. “It is a great honour.” Lilburn was also interviewed on October 8 on the provincial CBC Radio show North By Northwest about his award.

Created in 2015 in association with the European Union, the Homer Medal is awarded annually by a jury to outstanding creators in the worlds of literature and the visual arts. Previous winners include Turkish poet Ataol Behramoğlu, Armenian poet Gagik Davtyan, Iraqi poet Gulala Nouri and American poet Stanley H. Barkan.

The Homer Medal now joins Lilburn’s other prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Literature, the Canadian Authors Association Award and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, among others. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014, Lilburn is the author of 12 books of poetry and essays, and his work has been translated into French, Chinese, Serbian, German, Spanish, and Polish.

“I can think of no more worthy a recipient for this international award,” said Writing chair David Leach at the reception.

Dr. Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts, was quick to praise Lilburn’s work. “The quality and depth of Tim’s poetry create a model of excellence in research and creative activity for faculty, and it’s through his teaching that he provides a strong example for how our artistic practice informs the learning process for our students,” she said before a group that included Writing professor emeritus Lorna Crozier, Governor General’s Award winner Arleen Paré, visiting American poet GC Waldrep, award-winning MFA alumnus and WSÁ,NEC Nation poet Kevin Paul, Writing alumnus and Malahat Review editor John Barton, and a number of Writing department colleagues.

“Tim’s accomplishments and commitment to our students and community exemplify the mission of the Faculty of Fine Arts to provide the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals and students through the integration of the creation of art in a dynamic learning environment.”

After receiving his award, a clearly moved Lilburn spoke briefly but emotionally about the role of poetry in society.

“We are in a historical moment, where poets can be especially conflicted about what they do. Poetry can seem ineffectual before climate change, the rise of fascism, the need to decolonize and work toward reconciliation with First Nations,” he said. “Some poets could be tempted to set poetry aside in favour of activism, or make their poetry overtly political and turn it into pages of declaration and denunciation . . . . but we should not be so quick to abandon poetry in these extreme, dire times.”

Citing the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda — who was himself influenced by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera — Lilburn used the example of Neruda’s poem Let the Woodcutter Awaken, which was written while in exile from Chilean totalitarianism, to describe the impact poetry can have on people’s lives. “He learned from Rivera that if you present large, sweeping depictions of society and history, you can free people and give them a sense of power . . . . he also learned to describe in detail distinct lives, which helps to establish empathy, love, respect and a commonwealth of courtesy, civility and solidarity in his readers.”

Zhao Si presents Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal

The small room was quiet as Lilburn spoke, his voice embodying poetry’s simple power. “I believe the act of poetry-making itself . . . can have deep, social effect. In my books, poetry is not relegated to the social margins; it is not an adjunct to life and politics. It stands in the very centre of both, quietly and anonymously; in its empathy, imagination, narrative range, and commitment to the assemblage of beautiful, arresting patterns, it creates the political centre.”

In addition to receiving the Homer Medal, Lilburn has two news books coming out shortly: The Larger Conversation: Contemplation and Place, an essay collection being released in November by University of Alberta Press, and The House of Charlemagne, a book-length poem being released in Spring 2018 by the University of Regina Press.